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LIVE REPORT: Esben, TotS & Thought Forms
Ben Graham , October 16th, 2013 12:53

Ben Graham heads to the second-to-last show of Esben And The Witch, Teeth Of The Sea and Thought Forms' joint tour in Brighton. Photographs courtesy of William van der Voort

The package tour has a chequered history. It’s often the last resort for clapped-out pop acts huddled together as refugees from a decade lost to nostalgia’s greasy paws, playing their two and a half hits an octave lower while sucking their stomachs in and joking ruefully about the days when they had long hair/an impressive quiff/a ridiculous goth mullet (gullet?). There are however many noble exceptions: the legendary blues caravans of the mid-sixties, the Pistols/Clash/Damned/Heartbreakers tour of ’77 and the Rollercoaster tour that brought The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and Blur together in the early nineties, to name but three. Would it be presumptuous to now add this Quietus sponsored triple-header to that illustrious list? I think not.

The penultimate date finds the tour in Brighton, home turf for Esben And The Witch, who fittingly claim the rotating headline slot for the night. If the venue isn’t quite sold out, it’s respectably full for a Sunday evening with the torrential rain of the last twelve hours only just easing off, and promoter Phil (of Put It On promotions/Victory Garden Records) seems more than happy, while the bar is pumping out the local Dark Star ale like Monday morning will never come.

Thought Forms take the hindmost, all shadows and flailing hair, their faces obscured. The Bristol trio conjure the uneasy noise scree of Evol-period Sonic Youth one moment and the phased Camden lurch of Swervedriver the next, before venturing into modal Moroccan desert psychedelia. Deej Dhariwal bucks and canters like an impatient pony in a too-small paddock, ripped Converse scuffing the stage as he wrenches his guitar to all points of the compass, conjuring fierce lightning. Charlie Romijn draws an uncanny drone from what I suspect may be a snake charmer’s pungi, before switching too to guitar, her fingers flicking dissonant sparks into the billowing dry ice, as Guy Metcalfe’s deft drum patterns weave through layers of noise.

Teeth Of The Sea’s set consists pretty much of their magnificent new album Master played in order, as befits its enigmatic narrative concept. Of course, the Daft Punk-play-Diamond Dogs scope of the LP really requires something akin to TotS’ own Glass Spider show to truly do it justice, possibly with Jimmy Martin soaring over the audiences’ heads in a bucket seat while fellating his flying V with the polished skull of Philip K. Dick. Instead, we have to make do with the low ceiling and cramped stage of the aptly named Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, the sole theatrical concession being keyboard player (Sticky) Mike Bourne’s robot gimp mask. Nevertheless, Master comes off great live, from the percussive build of ‘Reaper’ to the final dying pulse of ‘Responder’, anticipating an encore of the band’s legendary cover of Queen’s ‘Flash’ that only happens in my head.

It’s been a couple of years now since I last saw Esben And The Witch live, and I confess that then I found them somewhat un-engaging, their intricately sculpted songs not quite translating into a live proposition. All this has changed however, and the three-piece are now a visceral and thrilling presence on stage. Much of this is down to the relocation of Daniel Copeman to behind the kit, his powerful human drumming bringing a much-needed swing to Esben’s music; although it also helps that the material drawn from the band’s latest album, Wash The Sins Not Only The Face, is more direct and punchy than what came before, without sacrificing any of their trademark atmosphere or intelligence.

Dressed down in utilitarian black jeans and T-shirts, Rachel Davies and Thomas Fisher (on bass/vocals and guitar respectively) seem determined to make you focus on their powerful, driving melodic noise rather than the fact that they happen to have read a few decent novels. There is still glamour - Fisher’s beard has grown into a most impressive facial bouquet - but tonight it’s all about the music, each song sparkling like a lost Xmal Deutschland single hitched onto I Like Trains’ post-rock vapour trail.

In fact, that’s the case all night long - great music, from three bands every one the equal of any supposed groundbreaker from any misty golden age you care to wax lyrical about. In spite of all you may have heard elsewhere, new music, live music, with or without guitars, is stronger and more robust than ever. The time is now!